Israeli Supreme Court orders vote for Knesset Speaker


What happened: Israel’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled unanimously that Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein must convene the Knesset and hold a vote to elect a speaker by Wednesday.

  • The court’s president, Justice Esther Hayut wrote in her ruling: “The continued refusal to allow the Knesset to vote on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process. It clearly harms the status of the Knesset as an independent authority, the process of government transition, the more so as the days pass since the inauguration of the 23rd Knesset. This is one of those exceptional cases where this court is required to intervene to prevent a violation of our parliamentary system.”  The Knesset “is not a cheerleader for the government, the Knesset is sovereign.”
  • Edelstein described the judgement as an ‘ultimatum’ and ‘an unprecedented intercession in the political realm.’ Edelstein said that he would allow a vote for a new speaker “as soon as possible.”
  • Likud Minister Zeev Elkin struck a more conciliatory tone suggesting Edelstein should respect the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying: “Though I think the involvement (of the court) was not legitimate, this sensitive period is not the time to have a crisis between the branches of government.”
  • Last night the Knesset voted to form a number of key committees that established the Blue and White led coalition as the dominant force in Israeli politics. The vote was boycotted by the Likud and the right wing bloc. The influential Arrangements Committee, which sets the Knesset agenda until a new government is formed, will have 17 members, with nine from Blue and White and the centre-Left bloc and will be chaired by Blue and White faction chairman Avi Nissenkorn. Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi will continue to chair the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee and Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah will chair a new committee to oversee the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The Knesset Finance Committee will be chaired by Yisrael Beitenu faction chairman Oded Forer and Joint List faction chairman Ahmad Tibi will chair a new committee to tackle violence in the Arab sector. Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman will chair the Knesset’s Labour and Social Welfare Committee.  A special committee on emergency planning in the education system for the next academic year will be led by Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz.

Context: A week ago Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was asked by President Rivlin to form a government, after 61 of the 120 MKs backed him. He has managed to elect key personnel to powerful Knesset committees and the Joint (Arab) List now has two important committee chairs, but he can’t build a coalition Government from the parties that currently support him as Yisrael Beitenu will refuse to serve in a Government with the Joint (Arab) List or join a minority Government reliant on its support.

  • Although Blue and White will attempt to elect one of their MKs as the new Knesset Speaker tomorrow, taking control of the Parliament’s agenda and procedure, Benjamin Netanyahu is still Prime Minister, leading Israel’s response to coronavirus and the implementation of strict controls on personal movement and the closure of key parts of the Israeli economy.
  • Although various stories have been reported in the Israeli media that Likud and Blue and White were close to agreeing the terms of a grand coalition, the Likud warned that if Blue and White were to replace the speaker it would kill off the chance of a grand coalition.

Looking ahead: The Supreme Court has set a deadline for tomorrow (Wednesday) for Speaker Yuli Edelstein to convene the Knesset and elect a new speaker.

  • Edelstein wanted to delay the vote to allow more time for talks to progress between Likud and Blue and White, but if he now defies a clear ruling from the Supreme Court he will create a grave constitutional crisis.